I'm all for the CBC brass stepping out of their ivory towers and walking among the people, but I'd also like a sense they have a vision themselves. A vision that can be shaped by public feedback, perhaps -- but a vision nonetheless. Because if you ask a hundred people what they want from the CBC, you'll get a hundred different answers.
CBC and Radio-Canada staff across the country are bracing for deep cuts today, as the public broadcaster aims to respond to an estimated $100-million revenue shortfall in the next year. It's likely that some Canadians may be rejoicing at the news, but I am certainly not one of them. Their raison d'être is not simple distraction, it is to be universally accessible, contribute to a sense of national identity and community, and -- most importantly -- keep a safe distance from vested financial interests. What that means is you can't necessarily assess their worth based on numbers, but rather good programming. You think we can't afford to offer intellectually-nurturing programming in these tough economic times? I think we can't afford not to!
If the CBC were to become an advertising-free service on both radio and television, as its supporters are demanding in ever-growing numbers, this fig-leaf rationale for unwarranted secrecy and arbitrary decision-making would be stripped away. A more truly accountable public broadcaster would be the result.
In my view, the CBC simply cannot survive so long as it continues to rely on commercial sponsorship, and thereby makes itself essentially indistinguishable from its commercial competitors -- indistinguishable, and therefore irrelevant and unnecessary. And so, NHL hockey has to go. If it is true that by carrying NHL hockey the CBC is "bringing communities, and the nation, together," it will be unfortunate if the corporation has to abandon this opportunity in order to serve the greater purpose of becoming a true public broadcaster, one whose first priority is to serve citizens rather than advertisers.
For the better part of a century now, private broadcasters in Canada have been complaining that they are forced to operate in competition with a state-subsidized player, CBC/Radio-Canada and its predecessors. But in reality the subsidy provided to the private industry by government is just about the same size as the CBC's Parliamentary appropriation.
So what's all this fuss the lefties are making about Prime Minister Harper trying to keep track of costs at the CBC by writing a few words into the back of his omnibus budget, Bill C-60? But what's the difference between a public broadcaster and a state broadcaster? I've worked for both. So I can tell you what's the difference.
I drink a toast to a man who believed passionately that journalism -- all journalism, but particularly journalism committed at a crown corporation like the CBC -- isn't just a job. That instead, it's public service. And that it's an honour to be a journalist -- particularly a CBC journalist -- and serve the people.
The CBC is hooked on hockey and the NHL lockout could be just a bitter foretaste of the future for the national public broadcaster. Friends' calculates that the CBC will suffer a devastating financial loss of as much as $200 million annually if it loses the rights to Hockey Night in Canada in 2014 when its agreement with the NHL expires. All told, the loss of hockey would be much worse than the most recent round of cuts announced in the federal budget last March. It would amount to a game changer for our national public broadcaster. Friends is not proposing that CBC television drop hockey, but our national public broadcaster must prepare for this scenario, which could open new and exciting possibilities to operate more like a public broadcaster.